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Myths and facts about loanword development

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 November 2012

Shana Poplack
University of Ottawa
Nathalie Dion
University of Ottawa


This study traces the diachronic trajectory and synchronic behavior of English-origin items in Quebec French over a real-time period of 61 years. We test three standard assumptions about such foreign incorporations: (1) they increase in frequency; (2) they originate as code-switches and are gradually integrated into recipient-language grammar; and (3) the processes underlying code-switching and borrowing are the same. Results do not support the assumptions. Few other-language items persist, let alone increase. Linguistic integration is abrupt, not gradual. Speakers consistently distinguish lone other-language items from multiword fragments on each of five linguistic diagnostics tested. They borrow the former, and code-switch the latter. Code-switches are not converted into borrowings; instead the decision to code-switch or borrow is made at the moment the other-language item is accessed. We explore the implications of these findings for understanding the processes by which other-language incorporations achieve the status of native items and their consequences for theories of code-switching and borrowing.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

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